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Doyle's Barrytown wasn't as working class as you'd think

I may not have learned much during maths class all those years ago. But I did figure out how to count. Well, in single digits anyway.

Which is why I can't quite understand why next years Dublin: One City, One Book choice is actually THREE books. Or should I say 'bukes'.

Yes, the tome chosen by Dublin City Libraries to get us all reading about the capital in 2014 is Roddy Doyle's Barrytown Trilogy. See? Trilogy, as in three.

The books are the Commitments, the Snapper and The Van. Remember them? Of course you do!

As one of the few people under 25 still living in the country in 1991 - and as a drama student - I managed to land myself a tiny part in Alan Parker movie of the first book.

It was by far the most exciting thing ever to happen to me - or to the entire city for that matter - during that awfully dreary and depressing period of Dublin history.

Coincidentally - or maybe not, as everyone else was doing the same - I also happened to be playing in a band (briefly and badly) and spent a lot of time hanging out in the areas which inspired Doyle's setting of the fictional Barrytown.

Which is why I'm not terribly ecstatic about having to re-live those days if I choose to re-read the Barrytown trilogy next year.

It was a very bleak time. Desperate poverty, stifling Catholicism, mass unemployment and filthy coal smog everywhere.

I don't want to look back on those days with a rose-tinted nostalgia, they were awful.


And with the greatest respect to Roddy Doyle (below) - a Booker renowned author as well as the writer of my kid's favourite books (The Rover Adventure series) - I have to admit that I always felt there was something a bit, well, 'middle-class' about his portrayal of the working class families in Barrytown (I can get away with saying this because my Dad was a working class Dublin plumber).

It was all so cheery and charming and - though there was a lot of swearing and a few sexual references - good decent, 'aul Dublin fun.

Lots of jokes and jakes and "aren't those working class people just great gas all the same".

To say it was a sanitised, romanticised view of what was a truly awful time to live in Dublin is a bit like saying that Mills and Boon cover the odd love story.

It has even been called patronising and a tad condescending - which surely must have annoyed Mr Doyle somewhat.

I doubt if he meant it, but it does rather come across that way. The Barrytown trilogy lacks the bitter, gritty, realism of Paula Spencer in his later work, The Woman Who Walked into Doors (Can any of us forget the mesmerisingly malevolent Charlo in the series Family?).

The Barrytown characters seem twee and sentimental in comparison.

Even the rape scene in the Snapper seems to be included purely as a plot device to keep people guessing about the identity of the father and provide Des Curley with a reason to be included in his daughter's life.

The fact that Sharon was raped seems to be besides the point. So why bring it back so quickly as the Dublin book (trilogy) of the year? Is it because we are currently in the middle of yet another whopping great recession with a swathe of mass unemployment?

Are we supposed to be reminded of those tough but innocent times and feel better about our present difficulties?


If so, it won't wash. Dublin today is as different from the Dublin of the early 1990s as it is from the 1890s. Actually, probably even more so.

In the Barrytown of 1991, characters actually got away with saying things like: "Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland an' the northsiders are the blacks of Dublin!"

That was because the only black person we'd ever seen on these shores was Philip Lynott or Lenny Henry on an occasional visit to the Late Late Show.

Times have changed. We are very much a multi-ethnic and multi-denomination society today.

And if the Barrytown trilogy wasn't particularly representative of the working class Dublin of the 1990s, it certainly isn't anything remotely like it today.